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Steele passes on seat to her son
Democrats go along with minimal dissent

Wednesday, December 06, 2006
Special to

With only one dissenting vote, Democratic committeemen selected Robert Steele Tuesday to replace his mother, former President Bobbie Steele, as a commissioner on the Cook County Board.

Robert Steele, 45, was sworn in by Cook County Judge Lawrence Terrell immediately after the 14-1 weighted voting, which was held during a short meeting in a basement conference room of Ald. Michael Chandler's 24th Ward office.

"I want to let you know that I'm here to represent the citizens of the 2nd county district, but also the citizens of Cook County," said Robert Steele, whose district includes portions of Chicago's West and South Sides.

"And I'm very proud to be able to continue the legacy of my mom, President Bobbie Steele, who served Cook County government for more than 20 years and the educational system for more than 26 years. So we're very proud to be able to step forward on her legacy and try to continue the wonderful name that she's presented to the citizens of Cook County."

Bobbie Steele retired last week after winning re-election as a commissioner on Nov. 7.

Only one other candidate, former Chicago police Officer Sheila Vinson, sought the nomination of the committeemen. She received one vote, from Chicago Ald. Ed Smith (28th), who is also his ward's Democratic committeeman.

Vinson said the process by which the party leaders handed the seat from mother to son was "disheartening" and said it sent the wrong message to young people who are interested in getting involved in public life.

"This is sending a terrible message," Vinson said.

The selection was based on the weighted vote of the committeemen in Steele's district. Chandler had the largest weighted vote, and he has said for weeks that he supported Steele.

Ald. Burton Natarus (42nd), who also has a large vote in the district, said both candidates were strong, but he was swayed by Robert Steele's grass-roots experience.

Robert Steele is a community-outreach manager with the Chicago Park District and has been involved with local non-profit organizations and hospital boards for years.

"I want somebody that's going to walk the streets," Natarus said.

Robert Steele said he was proud to be taking over for his mother, despite the criticism from some corners that he is just the latest beneficiary of political nepotism.

"I think my mother and our family [have] provided a long list of wonderful things that we've done for the citizenship," Steele said. "I think you look at my record, I'm not a newcomer at serving the community, I've been doing it for more than 20 years. And so I think the citizens of Cook County will be better served by having somebody familiar with Cook County.

"I'm familiar with the commissioners who are on the County Board so the transition for me to go into office will be a lot easier than for anyone else who's trying to come into the office and learn the system. I know the system because it's at my home table every Sunday afternoon."

Standing at her son's side, Bobbie Steele said she was "glad to pass the mantle."

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